The other ‘other’ side of mental health

There are few health-related topics receiving as much media attention at the moment as mental health, and rightly so. It’s been a tragically misunderstood and vastly under-resourced part of human conditions for years.

The NHS says that one in four adults and one in ten children will experience mental health problems, however only a small amount of the NHS budget has been historically set aside for mental health research, diagnosis or treatment. This is getting better (£11.9 billion in 2017/18), but the waiting lists are still too long, and the medical opinions between departments are still too rampantly inconsistent.

I know from first-hand experience with both anxiety and depression, just how debilitating poor mental health can be, and I have friends who have gone through incredibly serious treatment for significant mental health conditions.

That all said, there is another ‘other’ side.

As mental health is dialled up to 11 in the media, and the – much needed – mission to re-educate the public on its seriousness is highlighted, pop-psychology has also been dialled up, and genuine illnesses are in danger of being sensationalised as almost fashionable. There is a tendency to become very reactionary to basic terms, there are thousands of websites where you can get ‘self-diagnosed’, and there are all kinds of misinformed instructional blogs on how to be treated.

Some of these videos and blogs are incredibly helpful, but many are not. With the internet being the shape it is, we have no way of knowing if the guy at the other end of the keyboard is an actual MD, or a college drop-out sitting on his parents couch with a can of Monster and ill-fitting pyjamas.

The dangers of self-diagnosis online

Please understand that I write this out of a genuine desire to get people who are really struggling in front of actual doctors. The internet, even when it’s right, is by its nature anonymous and impersonal. This means that even if you do get a correct diagnosis, the treatment suggested might not be at all helpful for you, and could even be harmful.

With the growing awareness of mental health conditions and symptoms there are, thankfully, more people seeing doctors. This has, however, led to an increased burden on the NHS, which makes it understandable why they have created online ‘mood assessment’ quizzes. Even this quiz, however, with its genuine research and actual stock GP questions is marked with the disclaimer: ‘The quiz is not designed to replace an appointment with your GP.’

Psychology Today warns us that self-diagnosis may be missing something important that a doctor would be able to tease out with you, they say ‘you may be overwhelmed by anxiety and think that you have an anxiety disorder. The anxiety disorder [however] may be covering up a major depressive disorder.’

I have two very good friends with diagnosed, long-term clinical depression. Both receive treatment from doctors for their conditions. One of these friends takes medication, which – in the main – helps, the other isn’t allowed that particular medication because it causes triggers for his (also diagnosed) hebephrenic schizophrenia. They can’t be treated the same way. One of them sees a counsellor at their office, the other cannot be alone in a room with someone unless there are no windows and they are facing the door – which has to be locked. They both have ‘depression’ but different treatment plans made specifically for them.

There is also a blurred line between feeling something and suffering with something. Anyone can ‘feel depressed’ for instance, however not everyone has ‘clinical depression.’ Mental health includes things like chemical imbalances, vitamin production issues, and beta misfires. Self-diagnosis and treatment may be replacing another important need in your life where you should, in fact, be working on resilience and maturity. Mental health and hypochondria have (very ironically) become a taboo pairing.

In Youth Work

When it comes to young people, media-sensationalising, youtube ‘experts’, and ‘10 questions to find out if you’re a psychopath’ online quizzes – many of which are aimed at teenagers – easily throws fuel onto this fire.

I have young people who tell me regularly that they can’t participate in an activity or follow a rule because of their self-diagnosed / undiagnosed ‘mental health.’ This also carries on to personality types and additional needs. I recently was told by a young boy in a classroom that he should be allowed to bang his lunch and disrupt the room because he had ‘dyspraxia.’ Not only is this a poor understanding of dyspraxia, but it made light of two other people in the room who genuinely do struggle with dyspraxia and are trying to manage it.

I wouldn’t want to make light of a young person’s self-identity, of course. There are many young people who do have genuine mental health concerns, and some are still without a diagnosis. However, there is still a line to be trod between total acceptance and total rejection.

I have other young people in my groups who, along with parents, carers and doctors, are working on mental health issues and have asked me to support those efforts. I am all for this!

So, here’s a few things you can do:

  1. Get educated. Learn about conditions and treatments. Find out about the diagnosis procedures and the nuances of what is done in support.
  2. Get connected. Find out what mental health facilities are available in your area, especially for young people. This goes beyond the NHS and will often include support forums and charities.
  3. Get compassionate. Always start with grace and mercy. Don’t immediately judge or write off a young person’s self-identity, but talk with them, ask questions, and work on it with them healthily and compassionately.
  4. Get supportive. Young people with additional needs and mental health conditions often have a ‘one sheet’ created by doctors, teachers and social workers. This single page gives information about that particular person, what their triggers are, and how to help them. Ask them to see it and be a part of their growth and management.
  5. Get honest. Don’t try to be a doctor. Always follow medical advice, and always refer young people to professionals. Strongly suggest seeing their GP, and even offer to go with them. This step can actually be a huge fear obstacle to overcome, especially with some mental health conditions, so be understanding. However, do be firm, challenging, and help them get the help they need.
  6. Get talking. Make mental health a regular topic of discussion with your young people, and work hard at removing taboos. Bring into it the need to medical support, and the dangers of self diagnosis. Do it well, and self diagnosis won’t need to be a thing.
  7. Get praying. Need I say more? 🙂

 

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

Youth Work and the Novelty Trap

Today I spent a good twenty minutes choosing a doorbell tone from a selection of sixty-five different tunes. Some were famous hits by Abba and the Carpenters (two of my least favourite bands), and an uncomfortable amount were Christmas songs. Asking for a basic doorbell tone seemed to be far too much to hope for.

Choice can be a killer. Multiple options for innocuous decisions can take significant mental energy and time out of a day. Forget doorbells, you should see me trying to pick a movie on NowTV! The problem is that there are just so many shiny, sparkly things and I’m a sucker for novelty.

Youth Ministry: The Novel Approach

I think this holds true in youth ministry. The fires of novelty among young people are stoked so high, that we keep having to invent things to keep that blaze growing. It doesn’t always occur to us to let the fire cool down. We are always looking for fresh and new activities, and we place an enormously high premium on innovation.

It’s not that new or innovative is bad. I also spent some time today designing an event around Radio Controlled cars! Fun and excitement are an important building block in what we do. The issue comes, however, when novelty takes over as the foundation.

When our projects are driven by the conviction that we should be constantly in flux and changing the shape and content of our work (all in the name of being relevant and up to date), then there’s little hope of building any lasting structure on them.

A few years ago a board game developer decided that he wanted to improve the classic tower game, Jenga. He did this by adding a randomly exploding dynamite platform underneath the bricks. Bless him! At this point the ideal of building a tower is just futile.

If you want your youth ministry to thrive, then you need to build it on a solid foundation. Goes without saying right? However, I think we emotionally bully ourselves into constantly changing things becuase we think novelty is the key to attraction.

Instead, our foundation should allows us to grow upwards from Bible-driven values and long-haul aims. You can build in fun and excitement for sure, but that should never push or drive the direction you want to take.

Novelty is fine in the right doses, but it should never pressure us into reshaping our projects every few weeks. Young people get bombarded by change, inconsistency, and novelty every day. How about we be the one sure place of consistency that they can trust?

Just a thought.

Photo by Braydon Anderson on Unsplash

 

*Cheeky plug: My book comes out tomorrow! Grab a copy from here: https://ivpbooks.com/rebooted-525

The difference between ‘millennials’ and ‘GenZ’. Part 2 by Jonny Price

Jonny returns to his discussion of the differences between ‘millennials’ and today’s young people (‘GenZ’) here in part 2; focusing on the differences needed in approach. If you missed part 1, you can check it out here.

 

Recently I wrote about 5 Differences between today’s young people and Millennials. In this blog I want to lay out some potential ways that we as youth workers might start to engage with some of these ideas.

1. Emphasise what we stand FOR, rather than what we are against

For decades the church has been known by those on the outside by what it is against. It is anti-science, anti-LGBTQ, anti-women and anti many other things too. Within the church this has been seen as a sign of the church being counter-cultural, or of the church standing against the tide of society for the sake of the Gospel.

Outside the church though, this has been seen as the church persecuting those who don’t conform, and, far from being counter-cultural, it has been seen as the church promoting the established culture. GenZ are intrinsically egalitarian, they are shocked at the existence of racism, sexism, or any other ism. Combine this with their lack of knowledge of the Christian faith, then they don’t know why the church is standing against those things.

But what about what we stand for? We are for redemption, for equality, for renewal, for the least and the lost. I am certainly not arguing that we should give up our markers in the sand, or that we should keep quiet about what we are against, but maybe we need to re-think or re-emphasise. Are we promoting personal holiness through individual action, or are we promoting systematic cultural change?

2. Emphasise the everyday-ness of spirituality

For a long time the idea of ‘spiritual but not religious’ has been a catch-all group for those who believe but don’t belong. While many writers argue that GenZ are neither spiritual or religious, I’m not sure that is the case. It seems that many members of GenZ are intrigued by the spiritual world, but they don’t use the code words we in the church look for to signal that they are spiritual.

Combine this with the way we have made Christian spirituality about a special time and place (Sunday morning, summer camp etc.), then why should young people expect to see God in the world around them?

We can help our young people to see God at work in the world through the people around them and through the amazing things that happen each day. We have a huge help in this from the advertising industry, which has trained this generation to be discerning and skeptical. If we can help our young people to use their incredible skills of discernment, then we can help them to see God at work in the everyday world, and help them to see how they are a part of God’s work in this world.

3. Peter, not Paul, should be our example for conversion and faith

We love dramatic conversion stories. We love to see people’s lives changed suddenly, so that they are redeemed and renewed, and we should. These stories are fantastic and inspiring. These stories stand out, however, because they are unusual. It’s much more difficult to see the hard won, life-long search for truth and the struggle to live out that truth.

Which is why I think Peter is such a good example for us to hold to when we are thinking about conversion and faith development. It is not that he is holier, or superior, but that maybe his example is more timely for us today. How many times did he mess up? How many times did he not get it? How many times did he fail? And yet, he was never abandoned, never rejected, always called back.

By emphasising dramatic conversion, epitomised by Paul on the road to Damascus (which wasn’t as sudden or dramatic as we think, but that’s for another time), we set our young people up for disappointment when they don’t experience this sudden transformation in their own lives.

Emphasising Peter over Paul allows us to tap into GenZ’s understanding of change as incremental and slow, and will help us to develop lifelong disciples, rather than summer converts.

In Conclusion

There is no radical rethink here, no reforming of the Christian faith into something new. Instead we need to look at our contemporary culture and, as faithful Christians have done for centuries, see where the contact points between that culture and our faith is and emphasise those.

It can be uncomfortable, but if we can do this well, we can show the rest of the church how it is done and, more importantly, help a generation of young people see that there is a God who loves them, and offers them redemption not just to a new way of life today, but to an eternal life tomorrow.

 

 

Jonny Price is the Youth and Children’s Ministry Leader for a Clifton Parish Churches in the North of beautiful York, where he lives with his wife, Carly, and son, Ethan.

When time allows he can be found cycling, either road or mountain, cooking or reading.

He holds a BA (Hons) in Mission and Ministry with a specialism in Youth from Cliff College, and is currently studying for an MA.

He loves Jesus and the Church, and wants to see the Church work to help young people live transformed lives by experiencing the redeeming love of Jesus.

Photo by Ben Duchac on Unsplash

The difference between ‘being the leader’ and actually leading

One is based on an assumption, the other is based on an action.

Being the leader is assumed. It’s on your name tag, written in your job description, and comes with the territory. It does not – on it’s own – make people follow you.

‘You know what they call a leader with no followers? Just a guy taking a walk’ (immortal wisdom from Vice President bob in the West Wing).

Actually leading is acting like the leader. It’s earning the right to the name tag, living up to the job description, and owning the territory. It inspires followers.

In churches we can be a fickle bunch, and we don’t often care for our leaders the way we actually should. It’s hard today to meet a Christian who hasn’t got some story of how a leader was abused, or some juicy piece of gossip about how poor a leader was. It’s also hard to meet a leader that hasn’t been back-handed in exactly this kind of way. We don’t make it easy for our leaders!

When a leader starts a new post, they can either become territorial, dictatorial, and then defensive about their shinny new leadership role, or they can grow into it.

How to act like a leader:

1. Take responsibility.
Roll up your sleeves and start working on solutions… including for things within yourself.

2. Don’t enable.
Steer clear of gossip, judgement, and criticising what went before. Challenge those who do.

3. Don’t take sides.
Engage in active conflict resolution and mediation.

4. Pick up the phone.
Rather than leaving problems unanswered get on them immediately and personally.

5. Don’t be afraid of conflict.
Avoiding conflict tends to breed more problematic conflict. Look it in the eye and work at it.

6. Listen activity.
Practice the art of good listening, remembering, and personal critical thinking.

7. Spend time with difficult characters.
Don’t just surround yourself with people you like. Spend intentional time with those you struggle with.

8. Guard your own time.
If you don’t fill your calender, someone else will. Craft your week and stick to it.

9. Guard your contact details.
Give out ways to get in touch with you that you can turn off when necessarily. Not everyone needs your personal number or home address.

10. Say no.
Some ideas are not where things are at, and some times you’re not available. Learn to say no with compassion but finality.

11. Build a team.
Develop a group of core people around you to share responsibility and steer the ship. More on this soon!

12. Take time off – seriously!
ALWAYS guard your time off. Don’t change it.

13. Don’t overstep your resources.
If you can’t resource something (money, people, time, space) then don’t do it.

14. Be sacrificial.
Just like Jesus. Don’t lord it over people, but roll up your sleeves and get stuck in with whatever.

15. Look after your health.
Diet, sleep, and food. A healthy trinity of things you’ll need to function well while leading people.

16. Don’t be afraid of people leaving.
It happens every time leadership changes; for good and bad reasons. Build on what God has given you, and take your time over the foundation.

17. Love what you do.
Take pride and joy in your ministry. Let the best bits fill you, and embrace the bad as learning opportunities. God has called you – so believe in it.

 

Photo by Brooke Lark on Unsplash

5 Differences between today’s young people and Millennials… with Jonny Price

This week, Jonny Price, Youth and Children’s Ministry Leader in York, returns to give us some insight into his research into ‘GenZ’, and how young people today are actually quite different to ‘Millennials’ – just like him!

 

Millenials are everywhere, saving the world or destroying industry depending in your point of view. But the young people we work with today are not millennials. Instead they are Post-millenials, GenZ, iGen… they go by a few labels.

But the important thing is, their values are significantly different to the values of millenials, and so we need to engage with them instead of getting sucked into the church’s (slight) obsession with engaging with ‘millennials.’

However, before I do, I just want to sound a note of caution. Much of the material that I have found comes from the marketing industry. While it is slightly concerning that those most interested with the attitudes and beliefs of the next generation are those wishing to sell to them, that is not the main concern. We should be wary as to how much marketers are reacting to generational trends, and how much they are setting them. If a group of people grow up confronted regularly with a certain set of values, it is only natural that those values will affect how they see the world.

Here I have tried to look past the obvious ones like ‘shorter attention spans’, or ‘better multi-tasking’, and instead dig into the values they hold and the causes for them.

Now, on with the list

1. Progress, but not seismic shifts

Millenials seem to believe that if they can just sort that one thing out, then everything will be better. Whether they are talking about racism, sexism, exploitation of the workforce, wealth inequality (they are such an earnest lot), that in each of those issues there is a key point, and if it could be changed it would improve. This is unsurprising in a generation that have seen the growth of the internet, the change in the world since 9/11, and the impact of the global recession in their lifetimes. If it goes down, it must go up.

GenZ are much more pragmatic in their approach to change. They believe that small changes will lead to big change, and that improvement in life will come slowly. This makes sense; the phones, computers, and tablets that influence so much of their world are constantly being updated with new fixes and small improvements. It makes sense that they would see the world this way.

2. There is only sub-culture

Millenials see themselves as part of the wider world. They see the shapes and trends in culture and react to them. While there is significant individualisation in their own particular subcultures, through the things they consume and the values they hold, there is still an overarching culture they see themselves as part of

For GenZ, the wider culture has far less impact on them. In many ways there is now only sub-culture, with each individual or group of friends setting the norms and values for themselves without recourse to the adult world.

3. If we can’t influence it, we’ll make our own

Millenials have regularly been described by both their lauders and detractors, as anti-authoritarian. They want to push back against the world, they want to challenge those in authority and want to make changes to the way the world is.

GenZ are also anti-authortiarian, but in a very different way. Instead of imposing themselves on the adult world and attempting to change it, they will instead create their own spaces in which to flourish and grow, ignoring the external society and culture, although to what extent this is a result of the life stage they are at is debatable.

4. I’ll do it my own way

Millenials are a communal generation. They want to work together to achieve their goals, they value community life, and will search out those with similar interests or experiences to them to form communities.

GenZ are far more independent. This has implication across this cohorts life. They are less likely to attend higher education and more likely to enter the workforce sooner. They are less likely to seek work and are more entrepreneurial. They want to do it themselves.

5. ‘Internet famous’ isn’t a thing anymore

Millenials, remember a time before the true growth of the internet, and have inherited their parents slight snobbishness about the internet. However much they invest in it, it still isn’t quite real.

GenZ have no such compunctions about the internet. Influencers actually influence them, internet famous is actually famous. While this may seem a trivial point, it has significant implications. That YouTube celebrity you dismiss as just another internet guy? That person probably has more influence and impact on our young people’s life than we do.

So where does that leave us?

It is still early days for GenZ studies. Like millennials, they will lauded and lambasted, they will be the generation to save the world, or the one that is destroying the way things are.

How should we as youth workers react to these changes? That is a topic for another blog.

 

Jonny Price is the Youth and Children’s Ministry Leader for a Clifton Parish Churches in the North of beautiful York, where he lives with his wife, Carly, and son, Ethan.

When time allows he can be found cycling, either road or mountain, cooking or reading.

He holds a BA (Hons) in Mission and Ministry with a specialism in Youth from Cliff College, and is currently studying for an MA.

He loves Jesus and the Church, and wants to see the Church work to help young people live transformed lives by experiencing the redeeming love of Jesus.

Photo by Kendra Kamp on Unsplash

Should Dr. Jordan Peterson be a role model for Christian youth workers?

Jordan Peterson. Is he the opium for the masses of yesteryear – fighting a last hurrah for traditional masculinity before it plunges into the abyss? Or is he the the national self-help coach, strapping a pseudo-understanding of a plethora of human interest topics onto his otherwise robust portfolio of clinical psychology (with grey tape and bungee chords), and hoping that no-one noticed? Is he a misunderstood messiah, or troubled and troubling? Who is he, and do we really want to learn from him?

Upfront I want to say that I like Jordan Peterson – mostly. I’m not a lobster t-shirt wearing ‘bucko’, as his more effusive fans are affectionally called. I’ve read ‘The 12 Rules for Life’ and, despite being written in uninspiring prose, it does have a lot of well-tested, sensible ideas to take away. I’ve also listened to many of his interviews and lectures, and have learned much in the process. Some of it I liked straight away, other parts challenged me directly and won me over eventually. I respect that, however unpopular his ideas might be, he engages in calm and collected reasoning, allowing anything to be discussed on the table as long as it is presented respectfully.

I think Dr. Peterson is helpful on the legal issues surrounding gender pronouns, helpful on the need to do stuff and not just yell about stuff, helpful on compassionately responding to suffering, and helpful on taking responsibility. I think he is less helpful on conspiracy theories, less helpful on equality (although that’s a mixed bag), less helpful on social order, and less helpful on developing community.

From a Christian perspective, there are some specific problems to navigate through. These are issues that need to be taken on board very carefully before we surrender our own reasoning abilities to his. Dr. Peterson is becoming a role model for many ministers of the Gospel, but some caution is needed before getting too caught up in his approach.

Tread Carefully

I’ve just finished an MA in the hopes of soon starting a PhD, and – although I did well – one of the most consistent pieces of feedback that I received from professors is that my analysis is good but my conclusions are often overstated. I wonder if the same can be said for Dr. Peterson?

When you listen to Dr. Peterson question, dig, differentiate, clarify, and present clinical studies as evidence – he is on fire! His critical reasoning abilities, especially in the line of hostile debate is incredible. His analysis is often spot on, sourced properly, and undergirded with a startling, well-honed talent for critical thinking.

His conclusions, however, often jump wildly to something that can be completely left field. His credibility was built during the analysis, which – guard now dropped – makes us accept his conclusions all too readily.

The underlying problem is that he is looking for the ‘true’ meta-narrative of the universe without actually knowing God. He is attempting to find this ultimate truth in the orbits of myth, legend, ancient story, classical philosophy, and even the Bible. These, however, all surround an aura of an idea that he hasn’t properly grasped or digested, thus are all held with equal weight.

Dr. Peterson is looking for an ultimate ethic; an absolute foundational set of principles to guide humanity, but without a living relationship with the living God. This means that he is working from the outside in – getting close, but misunderstanding the weight of his evidence, and thus missing the truth.

Without a fundamentally Christian ethic he can only get close, but not actually get on point.

What does this look like?

His idea of the divine results in an Eastern balance of equal and opposite forces – almost karmic. The yin-yang is his meta-type metaphor that he uses to explain the chaos and order which battle in the world. This stems from a serious lack of understanding of the nature of sin (the actual bringing of chaos), and the character of God (ultimate order).

His conclusion is balance (over equality), and with this comes an acceptance of suffering as a part of life, helped only by the masses individually trying to correct unjust situations.

There is a lot of admire in this, but ultimately it is a pure form of humanism, and not compatible with Christianity.

Aspects missing from Dr. Petersons worldview – but clear in Jesus’ – are things like:

  • Ultimate sacrificial love
  • Servant-hearted leadership
  • An honour in humility
  • Seeking to be last in order to be first
  • Dependence upon God
  • Seeking the goodness of others above personal success
  • An end to suffering – ultimately
  • Chaos solved by surrender to, not creation of, order

This is not to say that Dr. Peterson isn’t immensely compassionate, and fiercely ethical. I believe he is. Christian ethics, however, cannot be tamed by conventional wisdom, or dammed by conventional fears. The God-man, Jesus, demonstrates the perfect picture of leadership that runs counter to the ideas of self-actualised success as presented (at least in my understanding) of Dr. Peterson’s work.

Some of this comes down to him being a traditional scientist, measuring all evidence with equal weight as is responsible to the method. Thus the Bible is put alongside other sources rather than above it. Some of this, however, also comes down to a poor understanding of the Bible. When he does quote from Scripture, he seems to cite odd scholarship and rather mess up fundamental exegetical methods. Finally, I think some of this comes from a dark worldview that is strongly reactionary (and rightly so) against the Communist atrocities of the last century – particularly in Russia and China. He sometimes just seems a little without hope.

We do, therefore, need to tread carefully when mirroring Dr. Peterson’s worldview. This doesn’t mean, however, that we can’t learn from him.

What can we learn from Dr. Peterson

Going back to his analysis, I think that the most important takeaways from Dr. Peterson is both his critical thinking ability and his calm response to conflict.

Critical Thinking

I believe that critical thinking is one of the most undervalued aspects of early education. Throughout high-school (in the UK at least), the emphasis is placed on the memorisation of facts, rather than on the discovery of them.

This in turn has deeply effected our evangelism. I guess that almost half the questions that I’m asked by young people would never have been asked in the first place if they were taught how to think. Misplaced stereotypes and new-atheist propaganda has been swallowed hook, line, and sinker, as if it was candy rather than a barb.

When we are asked a question, our natural response is to answer it – either as stated or as categorised as something we’ve heard before. Neither of these, however, might actually answer what the asker was interested in.

Instead, when asked a question, Dr. Peterson, clarifies the question. He asks a question back (or twelve), not to avoid, but to focus. In doing this he better understands the question, shows more respect for the person asking the question, and he starts to find holes in the assumptions given within the quesiton.

Take this question for instance:

‘If God exists why is there suffering and evil?’

There’s a question we’ve all heard many times, and we probably have a stock answer ready to roll. However, using critical thinking and being a little Socratic about it, we can have a much more effective answer. How about responding to that with one of these:

  • Why do you think suffering and evil means God can’t exist?
  • What kind of God are you talking about?
  • What kind(s) of suffering and evil are you talking about?
  • How would you do it?
  • Can you think of any way suffering happens for a good reason?
  • Are you struggling with something right now? Do you want to talk about that?

A little bit of critical thinking reveals that this question doesn’t challenge God’s existence at all. Instead it brings up whether or not someone likes the idea of God, which is a much weaker – but more honest – position.

This effects our Bible studies and talks too. If we only ask closed-ended questions, or speak at young people, then we won’t be training them to discover truth for themselves. What about printing off Bible verses, and letting young people try their hand at some exegetical tools for themselves? What about getting them to first write a Bible study and then deliver it?

Critical thinking is gold, because we love and serve a reasonable God. He wants us to think, and He wants us to discover Him.

Calm under Conflict

If you watch Dr. Peterson when he comes under fire in an interview or debate, you’ll notice a few things.

First, his posture doesn’t change. He stays leaned back, with his hands folded.

Second, he doesn’t loose eye-contact. He stays connected at a personal level.

Third, his tone, although firm and direct doesn’t gain an overly aggressive edge. He remains respectful.

Fourth, he listens critically, doesn’t interrupt, and takes a minute to understand and clarify. He processes his answer carefully.

If you watch me, however, especially at my worst, then you’ll see me do all the opposite of these things! I lean in, I fidget, I interrupt, I look anywhere but at the person’s face, I speak erratically and defensively, I say off-the-cuff things or placating things, and I speak too quickly without digesting properly. Bad!

This is one of the main reasons he wins his debates, but is also one of the main reasons he is respected. He shows respect and remains calm and thoughtful when under conflict.

He can be slightly less reasonable when the person attacking him is rude and unnecessarily aggressive – which is fair enough really. However, as we work with teenagers and in churches, we may need to dial up our tolerance for this kind of behaviour.

So what?

Dr. Jordon Peterson, I believe, is a helpful figure in public discourse. He’s thoughtful, compassionate, helpful, and articulate. He thinks before he speaks and he listens carefully. He doesn’t dismiss the supernatural out-of-hand, and he believes in the power of story.

He does not, however, represent a Christian worldview, or present a complete picture of Christian leadership values as displayed in Jesus. Thus we need to tread carefully around his conclusions.

Dr. Peterson does provide us a wonderful role-model for critical thinking, and remaining calm under conflict. Both of these traits will, I believe, serve us very well in our ministries with young people. For that we should be thankful for him, and pray for him to come into a living relationship with Jesus.

Is your youth group autism friendly?

Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a hugely broad and varied collection of conditions, symptoms, and traits – so trying to gather ‘autistic friendly’ guidelines is a difficult task. However, a few basic rules of thumb, and a keener understanding of what to look out for will go a long way.

Understanding ASD Basics

Autism is a cognitive disorder characterised by social discomfort, repetitive behaviours, linear focus, concrete thinking, and difficulties with language. The spectrum is so broad that you may not notice any traits at all – but you could also see so many physical and behavioural characteristics that you end up mistaking it for something else.

Physically, you might see a young person constantly making fists, shaking their arms, or flapping. They might hum, or click their tongue. They might resist physical contact, and will often struggle making eye contact.

Socially you could experience a young person with ASD standing too close to you when they talk, speaking too loudly, or ‘ignoring’ cues. They can be uncomfortably honest or seem inappropriately aloof.

One of the most common traits, however, is a difficulty when trying to grasp something abstract. So taking figuratively, sarcastically, or metaphorically can be a huge wall to concrete understanding.

Common Problems in Youth Clubs for Autistic Young People

We do love our extrovert-driven, spontaneous and loud up front presence don’t we? But these three pieces can actually be the most unhelpful traits for integrating young people on the spectrum.

Extrovert-driven assumes a social ease, spontaneous assumes that unpredictability is comfortable, and loud assumes an ability to take complex cues from voice changes. None of these are necessarily safe assumptions with autistic young people.

Then our teaching styles can be heavily reliant on abstract story telling and object lessons. Both of which are an enemy to the concrete learner. I often do a talk about two figurative people called ‘Bill and Ben’ who live in a cardboard box that I hold in my hands. An young person with ASD might not know that I’m talking figuratively, and that the box I hold doesn’t actually contain some form of tiny person called Bill.

Some Guidelines for ASD Friendly Projecting

Your ministry should serve the people that come – so I’m not going to suggest you change everything to fit all the varying people that could ever be. This would also be impossible! Some of these guidelines, while being very helpful to many young people with ASD, might be incredibly unhelpful to, say a young person with Downs Syndrome. So read with caution and apply with care.

There are loads of tips and guidelines online that you can find to help you – here are just a few that I’ve found to be particularly useful:

Create Consistency

Having a regular plan, or at least consistent names for project elements (‘game time’) will create a track that a young person with ASD can follow. They know what’s coming next and can transition smoothly into it. Sometimes it’s worth printing off a simple plan for a session that they can follow, with a space to tick off what happens as they go. Routine, although we can hate it as youth workers, is really important to a young person with ASD.

Know The Parents

Talking to parents can give you clear insights into the particular triggers and needs of their own child. This allows you to fit into the young person’s social development while learning how you can very specifically support their needs.

Be Visual and Tip Your Hat to the Concrete

Having clear, physical, colourful visual aids can really help to teach young people with ASD – especially when they are things that they can handle and work with themselves. At the same time, when you teach with objects and when you use stories, do make a note that it is ‘just a story’ or ‘just a metaphor’.

Create Your Environment With Care

It’s tempting to fill a youth space with lots of competing sounds and sights – filling the room with intense environmental distraction. This can be torturous to a young person with ASD, and makes it almost impossible for them to focus. I’d actually argue that this habit we have towards intense levels of environmental distraction is bad for most young people anyway – even those with ADHD. Choose your environment carefully – take care particularly over the overt use of lights and sounds.

Watch Your Language

By which I mean abstract, figurative, sarcastic, over over generalising language. In the same way you would speak to someone who has learned English as a second language, avoid too much that needs interpretation over translation. It’s great to use abstract language – just make sure that you let people have another way of seeing it too.

Provide For Unstructured Time

Many young people love the free time to create their own activities and have their own conversations. This time, however, can be very difficult for an young person with Autism. Always make sure there is some optional ‘thing to do’ or ‘space to be’ in unstructured times.

Keep Instructions Simple

Everyone hates a three hour explanation for a game anyway. Find a way of communicating complicated instructions simply and visually that doesn’t have long sequences. Videos can be similarly difficult to follow, so if you have it, then turn on the closed captions feature.

Provide For Note Taking

If you’re giving talks or asking them to take notes or write anything down – provide for how they do this. One young person I know with ASD loves to draw – so during talks I’d let them draw what they think I’m saying on a board at the front. Sometimes handwriting can be a struggle – so why not provide a laptop or tablet for them to use? This is particularly important to think about in nonverbal young people.

Allow For Messiness

Some young people with ASD can focus better if they are standings, rolling, swinging, bouncing from foot to foot, or just walking around. Create a youth work culture that accepts this as ok (within reason), and provides safe spaces for it.

 

An open letter to Nitin Passi, CEO of Missguided reg. their ‘Send Me Nudes’ sign

Below is an open letter to the CEO of Missguided regarding a reckless sign put up in their Bluewater store.

Kudos to Rachel Gardner for finding this and bringing it to the youthwork community’s attention. Credit also to Rachel for starting this petition online. Please sign and share!

Please consider writing / tweeting to them yourselves. This is not a small issue, and it needs a big response!

On to the letter…

 

An open letter to Nitin Passi CEO of ‘Missguided’

Missguided HQ
Missguided Ltd,
75 Trafford Wharf Rd,
Trafford Park,
Manchester
M17 1ES
@Missguided
@Missguided_help

 

06 Aug. 2017

Dear Nitin Passo, CEO

I am a youth worker with over a decades’ professional experience working with teenagers and vulnerable young people.

I was horrified to learn that your brand store in Bluewater Shopping Centre, Kent, has a large neon sign reading ‘Send me nudes X.’ It may be that you’re ignorant to either the sexual pressures of young people, or the law regarding sexting culture.

Young people are under enormous pressure to produce and send sexually explicit pictures of themselves via the internet and on their smart devices. Childline, the NSPCC, and the The UK Home Office classify pressuring young people to ‘send nudes’ as abuse.

Legally, asking a young person to ‘send nudes’ is asking them to engage in the creation and distribution of child pornography. Your sign, thus your brand, is complicit in that.

Legality aside; if you had spent any real time with a sixteen year old consumer who had followed your advice to ‘send nudes’, then you would witness first-hand the destruction that such a simple act creates. You would see the wake of broken relationships, emotional havoc, and intense bullying. You would learn about moved schools, social service involvement, police case numbers, and court hearings.

You would see childhood robbed in a moment of poor decision making. Your sign, thus your brand, is complicit in that.

As a brand marketing to the 16-35 year old female consumer bracket, having such a sign on your wall is simply shameful and reckless. You have a responsibility to liberate the girls to which you sell your clothing, helping them to feel empowered and stand against the abusive peer pressure they increasingly face.

Please. Remove this sign, and consider the awesome influence you have on the lives of young people.

In the meantime, I will continue to work with the young people you are treating so cavalierly, helping to pick up the pieces. I will also use my own influence to encourage young people to boycott your brand and affiliates.

Tim Gough

Young People and Porn… Dialing back on the Pop-Psychology

Porn addiction is a serious thing, and the very last thing I want to do on here is to minimise or trivialise it. It genuinely messes up minds, and mangles marriages. Addiction (rather than just habit or compulsion) rearranges your neurological pathways and replaces your body’s natural abilities to release chemicals like dopamine. It is a big deal.

However…

You don’t need to have had a massive childhood trauma to want to watch porn. You don’t have to be from a poor background, have messed up parents, have been abused, or be a closet sexual deviant. There’s not always ‘a deeper reason’ beyond that fact that porn is just easily accessible, rarely challenged, and it really feels good.

Can we just let that sink in?

Porn is readily accessible, growingly acceptable, and it feels good.

I’m sorry for the condescending tone but I recently asked a huge group of professional, career youth workers about their strategies for helping young people through porn habits, and it was like I’d turned on the pop-psychology button.

“There must be a deeper reason behind it.”
“Something must be missing from their life, can you find out what it is?”
“They’re probably clinically depressed.”
“Do you know what it is they’re trying to escape from?”
“Maybe they’re homosexual, and are looking for an identity outlet.”

That last one might have been my favourite.

Now all these things could be, can be, might be true. But first off, what are we doing diagnosing clinical disorders and conditions? Secondly, what if we are missing something much much simpler because we’re too busy searching for the obviously buried deep and dark reason. It’s actually pretty easy to convince young people that there’s a deeper reason through this kind of insistence – then you’ve created all sorts of problems.

Sometimes we should seek out reasons behind the reasons, and we should always be alert to the potential for hidden issues. Sometimes, however, porn is just accessible, acceptable, and feels good. Does that make it ok? No, of course not! But the way of addressing it is entirely different than going totally Dr. Phil on them.

Addiction is a big word. It’s a medical word. So is depression btw. Let’s be careful with our throwaway comments and start by looking at what is right in front of us.

Even just 15 years ago (when most of us youth workers were young people), accessing porn as a teenager was hard work, you had to really make an effort for it. If you were going to go to so much trouble to do so then the likely chance was that there was a deeper reason.

Today? Not so much.

Porn is no trivial thing. We must work together to see it less accessible and acceptable, and point young people to things that both feel good and genuinely are good for them. But let’s dial back the Dr. Phil a little ok? My kids are getting sick of it.

Thanks! 😛

Real Stories from 40 Women in Youth Work

On this International Women’s Day I’d like to pay respect, honour and gratitude to female youth workers.Lingering over from Western Christendom is a patriarchal and masculine church. This interprets theology and practice with a bent that need correcting. In many churches, we are quite happy for a woman to be a youth and children’s pastor, but even within those apparent ‘safe zones’ there are subversive and subliminal undercurrents of hostility and prejudice.

Lingering over from Western Christendom is a patriarchal and masculine church. This interprets theology and practice with a bent that need correcting. In many churches, we are quite happy for a woman to be a youth and children’s pastor, but even within those apparent ‘safe zones’ there are subversive and subliminal undercurrents of hostility and prejudice.

A month or so ago I asked forty female youth workers what particular struggles they have had in their jobs, and to share their stories.

Below is a snapshot of quotes from those interviews. These are things our sisters have experienced, and things that have been said directly to them. I’m not leaving them here to judge or pick apart, and I’m not making any theological argument or taking an overt position. I leave these here as an attitude check: Church, we must do better for our sisters!

“I can’t be a proper pastors/youth pastors wife if I don’t get my hair cut short (at my current church). Men coming up to me to say I should be helping not teaching (not in my current church)”

“My biggest struggle is establishing credibility and respect. “

“First question asked by some parents and particularly older ministers when they meet me…”Have you gone to Bible school?” or “Where did you study?” “

“Some random guy, “I bet those high school boys love THAT youth group.””

“Dad: “I’ll manage my son. Being a girl, you don’t understand what he’s dealing with””

“Ladies from church constantly introducing me to their sons or showing me pictures of them, “Don’t miss the plane!””

“Somehow young(ish) divorced church men think it’s a good idea to add me on facebook and private message me to “get to know me”.”

“For about a year, I had people tell me I needed to hurry up and find a man because, being a woman, I couldn’t relate to boys. Two years later, they told me to be more ladylike so I could relate to the girls, because I’m only good at relating to the boys (I’ve always been a tomboy). Also, there are some concerns that me wearing men’s clothing may make my girls lesbian?”

“Women don’t belong in ministry.”

“How can you be a minister AND a mom?”

“You aren’t a pastor, just a director of a program.”

“It never occurs to anyone that I might be trained and/or seminary educated.”

“Church members try to fix me up with their single sons/nephews. I also hear “she’ll never relate to boys in youth group” and “the boys only keep coming to youth group because she’s cute” in equal measure.”

“I was told recently I couldn’t speak at a youth event because there were some ministers that, if they were there, would walk out.”

“Most of my opposition has come from other women, not men. Most of my biggest supporters and people who will go to bat for me are men. A lot of the opposition comes (I think) from women’s own insecurities and struggles with pride that cause them to lash our towards us. Other women have said, “go and get a real job, be a school teacher” or “how can you be a pastor your not married” or “how can you be a pastor you’re not a mom”… the list could go on and on.”

“”how can you possibly relate to male students?” I guess in the same way male YP relate to female students.”

“Does your husband write your messages? That’s nice your husband lets you come hangout with kids.”

“”you are doing a good job, but The church would prefer a man in this role, eventually””

“The one thing I still face (even with an MDiv, even being licensed) are church members who just can’t/won’t accept my authority based only on my gender.”

“What I find fascinating is it seems to now be younger men, in their late 20’s, early 30’s more so than the older generation.”

“Finding a job. Do you know how many job descriptions have the words he/him/his? And then I have gotten responses back with one question: “Are you a man?” I have two degrees in student ministry and have volunteered for nearly 15 years in various capacities but rarely get any response.”

“I occasionally get asked when I’m going to have kids (which stings a little since my husband and I have been struggling with infertility for the past years) but other than that I am truly blessed to serve where I do.”

“I feel supported overall, but there is the feeling that I am incapable due to my gender.”

“I am the children’s minister at our church, note I am paid staff. I was told last week I wasn’t allowed to go on the staff retreat bc I was a woman…. my husband could go and “represent” me.”

“Our District Youth Director refuses to believe that I’m not the administrative assistant.”

“I have noticed the two people before me in the position were called youth “pastors” and were men; I come in and am now the youth “director.””

“I don’t think it’s been much of an issue ministry-wise–I think it’s been more of an issue when it comes to dating. Some men are not a fan of women in ministry leadership positions.”

“Biggest problem for me being told I’m so young I’m only 29. And still single but i don’t listen to what others say and focus on God and my youth kids.”

“I have had parents, (former) volunteers, and church members tell me they’re glad my husband is the teaching pastor for our HS students “because that’s how God has intended for ministry to be led.” Little do they know that’s why my husband teaches. It’s been so hard for me to teach because of that.”

“I was invited to be a lead speaker on a training tour, but then they had to ask me to step down because the hosting church was too conservative to have a woman teach.”

“To my husband (who is a police officer): “At least you’re in charge at home… right?””

“Commentary about details like: my haircut, my clothing being too pretty for preaching (it was conservative), “you’re a really solid preacher for a woman.” Then, there are the people who talk to my husband about ministry details, instead of (or in front of) me.”

“I’ve been around male leaders will come up and talk to my husband and I but literally ignore me. Won’t shake my hand, make eye contact, or acknowledge my comments.”